WEB EXCLUSIVE

It Takes A Village To Raise A Pig

ReviewingThe Good Good Pig by Sy Montgomery.

By Christina Wooden|Friday, September 01, 2006

There is no term in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that describes humans who relate to animals with more ease and delight than they relate to their own kind, but that is what we have here. In The Good Good Pig (Ballentine, $21.95), Sy Montgomery shifts her keen focus away from the golden bears, pink river dolphins, silverback gorillas, and Sundarban's tigers of her previous books and turns it to pigs, specifically a domestic mixed breed pig named Christopher Hogwood (yes).

This pig's tale begins one day when Montgomery was out of the house she shares with her husband, writer Howard Mansfield, and a neighbor called to ask, "Will you take a sick pig?" Pig farmers generally try to nurse along the runts of litters to turn them into viable pig profit, but with a bumper crop that spring, Christopher, being the runt of all runts, needed to be farmed out. Before the save-this-pig call went out, the farmers had actually tried to euthanize Christopher, but apparently, even at seven pounds he conveyed a will to live that spared him from the business end of the shovel on numerous occasions.

Montgomery lovingly recounts all the people in her part of rural New Hampshire ("the sort of place where the only reason you'd lock your car was if you didn't want people leaving zucchini in the backseat while you were at church") who pilgrimage with slop in bucket to Hogwood's pen. Along the way we learn some very curious facts, like the weight of the largest pig on record (think Mini Cooper), the intellectual prowess of sus scorfa (think really smart dog), the gruesome fact that pigs eat more humans annually than do sharks (of course, think opportunity) and because of their rich emotional life, Pavlov briefly studied pigs but then switched to the less hysterical canine (think Wilbur).

Christopher's story is beautifully told, but there are other compelling stories here as well—Montgomery's struggle with homegrown prejudice, years of waiting for her parents to accept her Jewish husband, and her deft juggle of life in Hancock with life on the trail of all those far-flung exotic creatures that star in her other books.

The Good Good Pig is an excellent study of rural farm life, and—with mercifully little talk of pork chops or pork rinds—also a good good family read.

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